Community sport will soon be able to go ahead without restrictions, following changes to gathering limits, vaccine passes and mandates.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the changes. Restrictions for gatherings indoors will be increased to 200 under the Red Light framework. There will be no restrictions on gatherings outdoors. This will come into play from 11.59pm Friday.
Vaccine passes will not be required, including in community sport, from Monday, April 4.
That means, those with vaccine passes will be able to gather freely to play sport from Friday, and those without will be able to join in on April 4.
“We want to encourage gatherings and events outdoors. They are a way we can come together safely,” Ardern said.
“That’s why on the advice of our public health team we are removing all outdoor gathering limits. Sports, concerts, gatherings without limits will resume.”
* Sport NZ chief advocates for all kids to play sport, vaccinated or not
* The vexed issue of vaccine passes and community sport
* Sport NZ resists vaccine mandates for community sport under traffic light system but strict restrictions apply
The changes to community sport follows changes, announced in February, allowing unvaccinated students to participate in school sport and people questioning the validity of mandates and vaccines in community sport.
The lifting of restrictions also follows the likes of the UK and Australia, who have lifted all restrictions of sport participation.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson was relieved and excited about Tuesday’s announcement.
“There’s been significant challenges working through Covid since the start of the year and that’s impacted all levels of the game, from community level right through to our semi-professional and professional games,” he said.
“I’m delighted we’ve got some opportunity for our community rugby programmes to get off the ground soon, right across all the provincial unions across New Zealand.”
He was looking forward to “seeing some joy come back on the faces” of people that are close to the game.
“It’s a massive relief for the entire game … we talked about the challenges we believe some of the restrictions have meant for the community game, the mental and physical well-being of people throughout New Zealand, and so for them to be able to reengage with the game in a normal manner is highly exciting.
“It’s nice to be back with people with smiles on their face, back into training and having some fun.
“The community game is … critically important. For everyone associated with the game, be they four and five-year-olds involved in ripper rugby, through to secondary schools, all the volunteers, caregivers, mums and dads. We know it means a lot to them.”
Under Tuesday’s announcement, Ardern said that facilities will still be able to chose whether to keep and enforce vaccine pass requirements, which is a concern to North Shore mother Phillipa (who did not want her last name published to protect her privacy).
Tuesday was an emotional day for Phillipa, having previously spoken with Stuff about the difficulty her son faced accessing rugby under the previous mandates.
She was concerned venues and facilities will continue to not allow unvaccinated sports participants to enter.
“We are delighted, but a little bit scared. Businesses can still choose to use mandates. We are fearful places will still choose to discriminate against the kids,” she said.
“I hope for the sake of unity, moving forward and for the kids’ well-being that it wouldn’t be an option for all places.”
Her 12-year-old son is unvaccinated and hasn’t been able to engage with rugby or canoeing. That is now set to change.
“It means that he can live his passion again. He can be the leader that he was born to be. That he can engage with his friends and he can be a healthy, happy boy,” she said.
The “tough journey” for the family drove Phillipa to engage with a petition presented to parliament to drop mandates for sport.
“I’m so glad this stuff is coming to an end,” she said.
Bowls New Zealand chief executive Mark Cameron said the lifting of mandates will mean a lot to the clubs that rely on hospitality. Because of restrictions, the sport has lost approximately two to three per cent of its membership during the pandemic, and he’s looking forward to welcoming them back.
“The clubrooms will be open to unvaccinated members of our community,” he said.
“The concern for us is while the bowls … is important for a physical perspective, it’s equally if not more important from a mental health perspective. That social connection is important.”
Sport New Zealand will be releasing more guidance for the sport sector on Friday.